As with all new technology, 3D printers can have both positive and negative implications. In the case of these printers, they are a new means of production. For employees who work in the production and manufacturing of the products that can easily be made with 3D printers, it is clear that the introduction of these machines to homes or offices would have a negative impact on jobs. If you are part of the IT department that looks after printers, you may suddenly find yourself with a completely new role. Before we start introducing any technology we have an ethical obligation to understand the impacts.
IT professionals are the experts that must look at the big picture for computer technologies and speak up if they think a new piece of hardware of software is not in the public’s best interests. CIPS has a code of ethics for IT professionals that says they must put the public first. The public does not always understand the implications and does not always hear about it in time. Although there is no definitive way to say a technology is bad, we can assess the negative impacts and deem if they are significant enough.
As for negative impacts, Wired recently outlined a number of counterfeiting issues that are parallels to the color printer issues of recent decades. But there is more here. The 3D printers are being sold as a way to be able to create things at home. You can design a new model car and print a plastic copy of it out at home. Empowering people to be creative is a good thing. The next implication would be that people will share designs and possibly stop getting plastic cars any other way. But what about all the people currently employed is producing plastic toy cars and shipping them to stores who hire people to sell them? Losing all those jobs is a negative impact.
The price of 3D printers is getting much lower and much of the public will soon have their own. Likewise the businesses will soon be using the printers to create their own binders or paperweights or coat hooks. Are the IT shops ready to become the replacement for warehouse distribution? I predict we will not be using the same processes as the warehouse since it is possible that offices will request one printer on each floor. And as printers diversify to print in many different types of material, IT will have to have a plan to track and acquire all these different materials.
Technological disruption has had a revolutionary impact on the way we conduct our businesses, and in many ways has driven positive changes. But change isn’t enough of a reason to adopt a new system, and there needs to be education and a careful assessment of the value added by any technology before it is blindly incorporated into homes, and more importantly, offices.